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A River of Creativity

As a first-year theatre student, George Harris had to take an elective course outside his department.  The only one he could find that fit into his schedule was art history.

Photo of George Harris courtesy of George Harris“I did everything I could to avoid that course, I really did. I had no interest in it at all,” he said. “I scoured the university for a different option, but in the end I couldn’t escape the fact that I had to take it.”

That art history course stuck.  Harris is now the curator at Prince George’s Two Rivers Gallery.  While completing an art history degree from UVic, Harris gained experience at the artist-run centre Open Space in Victoria. After graduating he worked for a short while in local art shops, and then won a scholarship to University of East Anglia in England.

By then Harris had refined his focus to contemporary and Northwest Coast art.  His master’s degree in cross-cultural, anthropology, archaeology and art history at East Anglia gave his focus a wider scope.

It’s not the first time Harris has been the curator in Prince George.  His degree landed him back in Canada for a two and a half-year stint with the city’s gallery before he moved to the Yukon Arts Centre Gallery in 1997.

But Prince George enticed him back. In 2001 Harris returned to the newly built and newly named, Two Rivers Gallery, a building he originally helped plan.

 “I was always a little sad about leaving something I’d been so involved with, so I was happy to return.”

Prince George has a variety of influences and interests. Two Rivers Gallery has different spaces for different purposes, which makes matching those interests easier.

There is a sculpture court, for larger outdoor sculpture, and a community-based exhibition space known as the Galleria. There are also two formal exhibitions spaces end-to-end, allowing gallery staff members to present numerous exhibitions concurrently.  These last spaces in the centre of the building are protected from abrupt changes in temperature and humidity. That means the gallery adheres to the high standards needed to safeguard borrowed exhibitions.

Two Rivers Gallery recently displayed work by the Group of Seven and later by B.C. Binning from the Vancouver Art Gallery.

One of Two Rivers Gallery’s projects, this year called Flux, is an annual themed exhibition.  Artists from across B.C., in mediums ranging from painting and installation to drawing and photography, are encouraged to submit work pertaining to that year’s particular theme.

The project not only provides artists with a creative forum for their work, says Harris, but also keeps the gallery’s finger on the pulse of the B.C. arts community.

"Everything we do is a collaboration between us as a team as well as the artists we work with," says Harris, "One exciting new initiative is Make Art Make Sense, a self-guided tour experience that encourages visitors to explore and think about an exhibition."

After investigating the gallery at their own pace, visitors are invited to understand more about the art they have just seen by making their own.

"With a studio full of supplies that change to suit different exhibitions, visitors leaving Two Rivers Gallery have a stronger connection to what they’ve  just seen."

Like innovator and educator Sir Ken Robinson, Harris believes in the value of art’s ability to encourage creativity and adaptation.  Over the next hundred years, says Harris, the world will face an unimaginable onslaught of change.

“It’s vital to be able to adapt and respond to a wide variety of stimulus. That’s what art does for us,” he says.  “Art gives us the opportunity to explore the experience of other people’s lives; it fosters greater tolerance and understanding of the people around us.”